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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

Letís change MLS scoring system.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Friday, April 23, 1999) -- I donít want to get too deeply into the forever-ongoing shootout debate. You can find plenty about it elsewhere on this site, including some wonderful letters from Major League Soccer fans, both pro and con. Having said this, I would like to comment on a couple of aspects of the debate.

In defending the shootout, MLS commissioner Doug Logan has long argued that American fans demand a win-lose result, and that the shootout is the best way to achieve this result given the time demands of television. It is also, Logan argues, a more skillful, match-like contest, as opposed to a penalty-kick contest like FIFA uses in many tie breaking situations.

Letís examine this last assertion briefly. When he was coaching D.C. United, Bruce Arena used to call the shootout a "crapshoot." Yes, there are some skills different from penalty kicks that are utilized. Yes, the shootout might switch the advantage to the keeper as opposed to penalty shots where the advantage is completely with the shooter. But based on the manifest evidence from the many shootouts this season, I am ready to side with Arena (actually I always side with Bruce, on everything) that shootouts basically come down to luck.

If the shootout is skilled based, then a keeper who is good one week will be good the next, and a shooter who scores with ease one week should be able to do it on a somewhat regular basis. That just is not happening.

One week Dallasí young keeper Matt Jordan is all but shootout invincible against the Fire in Chicago, four days later he canít stop anyone in Miami. One Saturday, the Revolutionís Walter Zenga looks lost and confused in Miami as he stops nothing in the shootout, yet two weeks later against D.C. United he stop almost everything through eight rounds.

As for shooters, how many in the League are above 50 percent in the shootout -- either this year or career? The answer, very few.

Thus, you have to say luck or chance or just fate seems to outweigh skill.

I have always believed that MLS often seems to go out of its way to shoot itself in the foot. I think it is doing so with the shootout. Hereís why.

Commissioner Logan complains about the paltry amount of coverage MLS gets in the press and on television. Heís right, of course. Given this limited amount of coverage, a relatively few column inches for a game report in the Sunday sports section, or a minute of highlights on the late news, itís a disaster for MLS that in matches going to shootouts, that becomes the sole focus of coverage.

Read most game stories following shootouts and what you get is almost a play by play of the shootout and a few quotes from coaches and players mostly about the shootout. Itís as if the previous 90 minutes never happened or were inconsequential. On TV, the highlight package is inevitably a couple of shootout goals or saves.

If MLS is trying to sell soccer in this country, it is slanting its own coverage. Two teams may have battled through 90 exciting, even exhilarating, minutes. But you would never know it from the coverage. And reporters are not to blame. They have to cover the shootout, and given the limited space available, ignore most of what went before.

But this is not what I want to really focus on here. I keep coming back to the intrinsic unfairness of not rewarding a team who has played well, even bravely, to earn the regulation tie. This was brought back to me again watching the all-shootouts-all-the-time San Jose Clash play D.C. United in Unitedís home opener. Simply put, San Jose played a magnificent match, twice coming back to earn the tie. They did prevail in the shootout. But given an inch here or an inch there, they well might not have. It would have been almost criminally unfair for San Jose to have left RFK without a point.

This brings me back to a position I have often taken in this column: if MLS believes it needs the shootout to put bodies in the seats, then it must change its scoring system to allow teams that tie in regulation a point.

Elsewhere on this site, you will see the current standings of MLS calculated as they would be in any other top professional league in the world based on the traditional 3-1-0 system. But MLS says it needs its shootout and it needs to encourage offensive play. So I want to go one step farther. I am intrigued by the scoring system that has been adopted by the A-League of giving 4 points for a regulation win, 1 point for a tie with a bonus point for a shootout win and another bonus point for a team scoring 3 goals in a match, win, lose or draw.

MLS says that such a scoring system would skew the standings. But would it? I would like to find out. So starting with this column, and then every couple of weeks during the season I will give a comparison of the official standings versus what they would be under a 4-2-1 with a bonus point for 3 goals system.

The current standings would be as follows:


Eastern Conference: D.C. United - 7 points, Columbus 5, MetroStars 5, New England 3, Miami 2, Tampa Bay 0.

Western Conference: Chicago 12, Dallas 7, San Jose 4, Colorado 4, Los Angeles 2, Kansas City 0.

A-League method

Eastern Conference: D.C. United 11, Columbus 7, New England 7, MetroStars 6, Miami 3, Tampa Bay 1.

Western Conference: Chicago 20, Dallas 12, Colorado 8, San Jose 4, Los Angeles 4, Kansas City 2.

Well, so far the standings are not changed much except to make Walter Zenga feel a little better and reduce the bragging rights in San Jose somewhat. But stay tuned, weíll see how it goes week by week.

Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at soccerwag1@aol.com.

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